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Educational uncertainty

Child psychologists and self help parenting books are consistent on one point: Children and teenagers respond to structure and consistency.

So it’s worrying that each school year seems to start with uncertainty and change.

To be sure, all schools need to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances, but changes also need time to work.

Bermuda’s schools have been in a constant state of flux for the better part of 15 years. First there was the restructuring of the schools into middle and senior schools. Then there was the Hopkins Report, which found serious deficiencies in the schools. And then there’s the little matter of Dame Jennifer Smith being the ninth Education Ministers since 1998 a record which guarantees uncertainty.

Dame Jennifer has promised to put teaching and learning at the forefront of education, but that’s what the Hopkins Report proposed some four years ago.

Dame Jennifer has also been faced with the unenviable task of cutting spending. This newspaper is not convinced all of those cuts have come in the right places, and Government should have ring fenced education spending as much as possible.

Then too, there is the uncertainty over principals and teachers. The Ministry has been at pains to explain that delays in the appointments of principals was caused at the Public Service Commission level. And it has stated that there are fewer than a dozen vacancies, although others say the figure is higher.

Even allowing for all of this, it is difficult to accept as reasonable. It is difficult for principals to prepare for new posts when they cannot be certain they will get the jobs.

Filling teaching vacancies can be more complicated, but it should be possible to make the transition easier.

In the end, what matters is that Bermuda’s students get the education they need in order to compete in a world where university places and jobs will be scarcer and where the rest of the world is driving to make their educational standards higher.

To this end, the implementation of the Cambridge curriculum needs to continue, and if possible, be accelerated.

More rigour is certainly needed. Even now, graduation from a secondary school means little, and too many students are coming out of school with inadequate basic skills.

Discipline continues to be a problem as well, and the schools have an obligation to tackle gangs and to educate their students into why gangs are dangerous.

Although some jobs have been cut across education, little has been heard about how many inadequate teachers have been moved out of the system. The need for rigour has to start with teachers. If they are not up to the job, they need to be moved for their own sakes and for the sake of the children.

Government continues to be faced with the issue of a shrinking school population. At some point, this will require the closure of schools, although this is a political hot potato. And yes, a school closure causes more uncertainty than anything else. But it will be the single best way to reduce costs and to remove poor teachers from the system.

Improving education is not easy and it takes time. But it can be done with common sense and a will to succeed.

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Published September 13, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated September 13, 2011 at 10:15 am)

Educational uncertainty

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